Posts in Reading Recommendations

Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 8 comments

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks “authentic” English expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the electronics and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. Expand your vocabulary as you read them aloud to your children on a blanket at the beach or park. After all, how often do holidays come around?

 

Book Review: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

May 19th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

At the time a new movie about Marie Antoinette was released, our high-school age daughter made a comment to a friend about the Queen’s youth at the time of her dramatic encounter with the guillotine. Her friend was quite peeved at how our daughter had ruined the movie by giving away the ending.

Ignorance of history portends unhappiness for a civilization. If citizens are able to internalize the concept that, “There is nothing new under the sun,” by recognizing repeated trends and ideas, they are less vulnerable to the “newest and greatest idea” that falsely promises to provide universal freedom, peace and prosperity.

This is one reason that boring history tomes are a menace. History that is dry and lifeless makes no impression. Good historical fiction that creates imaginary characters while faithfully presenting events is a valuable resource. The minute that anyone, whether Marie Antoinette or the family that grew the wheat used in the royal kitchen, catches one’s imagination, the important occurrences of their lives and the applicable dates and locations become unforgettable.

With this in mind, I’d like to recommend a book for pre-teens and up entitled, A Night Divided. The story starts in 1961, on the night that the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany was erected. Eight-year-old Gerta, her fourteen-year-old brother and mother are trapped in their home in the East while another brother and their father are on the other side, aware that returning home is no longer an option due to their political leanings. The bulk of the book takes place four years down the road as Gerta and her brother begin plotting to escape to the West and reunite their family.

Read as an adventure story, the book is gripping. Adding some historical context gives it great value. It is a good sign that even in our times, this book received positive reviews from various newspapers and organizations that prefer not to focus on the evils of Communism.  I would recommend either reading A Night Divided aloud or at least discussing it with children after they have finished it, making sure they understand that the depiction of control and fear exerted by the East German Communists, as well as the dreariness of life under their rule, was real. 

Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life

February 21st, 2019 Posted by Reading Recommendations, Susan's Musings 29 comments

Have you noticed how many books have a number in the title, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?  Or how many articles are enticingly entitled “The Top 5 Reasons We Fall Out of Love”?  We human beings love lists. Who wouldn’t be smitten with the idea that if I only do these seven or ten or fifteen things, my life will be better, my marriage will be stronger and my career will flourish? Of course, it is easier to read the ideas than to put in the hard work of executing them. And, of course, no list—even the most marvelous one—hits every area every time.

I recently read a book from decades ago, with a subtitle that still resonates today. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America’s most admired women, wrote You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life only a few years before her death (decades after her husband’s presidency). The advice she gives holds up rather well, though I think she would be shocked to discover that by today’s standards she might very well be considered a hard-core conservative rather than an icon of the Democrat Party.

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Book Recommendations: Navigating Early and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

February 11th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I am rather excited at finding not one but two books to recommend for pre-teen and teenage boys. Girls will enjoy these books too, but I find that a disproportionate number of fiction books cater to girls and frequently many boys aren’t interested in them.

I assume that I picked up the first on someone’s recommendation, because the title would not have enticed me. I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was so I could direct my appreciation their way. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster might be a title that you too would overlook, but in my opinion it is worth serious perusal.

Jonathan Auxier crafts a gripping story that is, in his words, “a tangled knot of fantasy and fact.” He inserts the legend of the golem—a creature brought to life by Rabbi Loew in 1500s Prague to protect the Jewish community from vicious anti-Semitism—into the life of a young female chimney sweep in Victorian England. The book provides fertile ground for a homeschooling unit study and I hope you will consider it as a read-aloud that might spark numerous important conversations with your child.

The second book I heartily recommend is Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. While all children are different, my teenage grandson who read this on his own did not enjoy it while his younger siblings (ten and up) who heard it as a read-aloud by their mom loved it. I can’t stress often enough how a well done reading aloud experience can transform a complex, sometimes confusing, story into a gem. Like Sweep, Navigating Early inserts serious topics, in this case, autism, resilience, and appreciating those who are different into an adventurous tale.

Though both these books touch on important issues, they are enjoyable reads that include wonderful story-telling and language. I’d love to hear what you think of these books and whether you agree with me that they deserve a place on your bookshelf.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

 

The Tuttle Twins – book recommendation

January 14th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

When the Bible and Vladimir Lenin agree, it’s time to pay attention. One of Scripture’s recurring themes is teaching and shaping the next generation’s views and beliefs. As for Lenin, he said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

If you are shocked by the way college students are embracing socialism, you haven’t been paying attention for a few decades. Of course, this is a result of many factors, but one that is less frequently discussed is that few of us focus on economic education even when taking responsibility for our own children’s education. After all, when was the last time you discussed inflation with your seven-year-old? Talked about competition and market regulation with your pre-teen?

Fortunately, the Tuttle twins have stepped into this void.  A series of entertaining books featuring the fictional twins present complex ideas with clarity and simplicity. Whether the twins are running a lemonade stand, enjoying themselves at camp or hanging out with neighbors and classmates, basic societal and economic principles intertwine with their lives.

I have frequently undertaken the job of warning you to beware of books that might undermine your family values. Often, the agenda in the books is hidden. If you don’t pre-read them, you will probably never know about the message on p. 63. In contrast, these books openly have an agenda: a defense of what my husband calls ethical capitalism. The author, Connor Boyack and illustrator, Elijah Stanfield, take concepts from thinkers, economists and authors such as Henry Hazlitt, Ayn Rand and Frederic Bastiat, and turn them into appealing and informative stories.

Judging by my test panel’s response, ranging in age from eight to fourteen, children will enjoy reading these books, which would be a worthwhile result in itself.  Even better would be if parents and older children read them as well, sparking an opportunity for family conversation and for more advanced reading for the older group. As parents, we ideally have more than four years to inoculate our children against the harmful ideas and mistaken beliefs that will bombard them. I heartily recommend that you add this series to your tool kit.

The Tuttle Twins

Hide and Seek

December 17th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

I have written quite a bit lately about the children’s books I’ve been reading, appalled at how much of an agenda they contain. An article by Dave Seminera in the December 16, 2018 Wall Street Journal reminded me of another point.

I don’t know who chose the title for his opinion piece, but it is most apt. Reading from Left to Left points out that even if books are individually unoffensive, or even exemplary, the thrust of what is available leans heavily in one direction. Recently, certain adult news magazines ostensibly writing about women candidates in this fall’s election, highlighted only Democrat women, ignoring or downplaying those running on the Republican side. Mr. Seminera notes a similar philo-Left trend in the books chosen for display and attention at his Barnes & Noble.

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Censored Cilla

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

Hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style before my time as did butter churns. Nonetheless, I am two generations closer to a time when those items were in general use than my grandchildren are. And while I love sharing classic books with the young ones in my life, I also look out for writing situated in current times.

With this in mind, I was delighted to meet the fictional protagonist Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a spunky and funny eight-year-old aspiring author. Like the author, Susan Tan, Cilla’s family is composed of both “white-bread” American and Chinese immigrant grandparents.  The first two books in what may well become a long-running series were almost entirely a pleasure to read. (There is a third book I have not yet read.) Aye, there’s the rub.

In the second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, Cilla’s aunt gets married, providing a pleasurable peek into both Chinese and Korean wedding customs. The sour note comes as Cilla’s aunt’s friend, Jane, is introduced along with her own girlfriend and soon-to-be spouse, Lucy. Sigh.

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Psst! Want the Secret to a Great Education?

November 26th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

When I was actively homeschooling, I would occasionally see humorous lists citing the top reasons to homeschool.  One that resonated with me (and seemed serious to me even if it lent itself to funny illustrations) was that homeschooling validated hours upon hours of reading. Not only did I get to read in order to prepare for teaching, but there was a practical need for reading books about education and learning.

With that in mind, those of you in the trenches of parenting whether you are homeschooling or not, might enjoy reading two books that I recently finished. Lenora Chu is an America journalist whose parents immigrated to the States from China. When she and her small town, Minnesota-bred, blond and blue-eyed husband attain career opportunities in China, she utilizes her skills to explore and compare education in China and her home country. Since the couple has two young children, one of whom they enroll in school, her writing is conflicted, passionate and very human.

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve is a fun read that will make you think. Like Ms. Chu, you may find yourself alternately horrified, envious, curious and forced to analyze exactly what your goals for education are.

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The Man in the Glass

November 20th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 6 comments

I’ve written about how Justice William C. Goodloe set our family on a path of appreciating poetry. One of the first poems he recited for us, and set our children to memorizing, came to mind when we were answering an Ask the Rabbi question. I thought I would share it with you. (This is the version I saw. Pelf is an archaic word for money. I’m not sure if there was so little punctuation in the original.)

The Man in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf
and the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
who judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you a straight-shooting chum
and call you a wonderful guy
But the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum
if you can’t look him straight in the eye

He’s the fellow to please never mind all the rest
for he’s with you clear up to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway
of life and get pats on the back as pass
But your final reward will be heartaches and
tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass. 

I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch

November 7th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

Most book titles mean something only if you are familiar with the contents of the book. There is nothing particularly descriptive about the words, Little Women or Tom Sawyer. The titles evoke a reaction only because the books are well known. More intriguing names like The Red Badge of Courage or The Scarlet Letter are also only meaningful after reading the book. Even a short plot synopsis doesn’t automatically let you know that this book will be one of those that becomes a classic and which you might find yourself reading over and over. Four sisters during the Civil War years go about their daily lives, maturing from girlhood to womanhood. Not terribly gripping, is it?

The above doesn’t apply to one of my favorite reads, I Didn’t Plan to be a Witch. This mother’s lament at not always measuring up to her image of what she should be, grabbed me at the title. The author, Linda Eyre, had previously written a best-selling book with her husband, Teaching Your Children Values, which evolved into a series of books like Teaching Your Children Joy, etc. That information was enough for me to know that this book wasn’t going to be sordid tale of drugs or promiscuity. Indeed, I Didn’t Plan to be a Witch echoed my internal cry when I didn’t live up to my own standards. I enjoyed the book, but the title stayed my favorite part through the years. Just looking at it on the shelf could make me laugh and buoy my spirits especially on those days that I felt like a failure. The book still fills that purpose for one of my daughters who has “borrowed” it, finding it reassuring after a disappointing day. 

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